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Sue T. Johnson,MSTM, MT(ASCP)SBB

BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s Laboratories Aid Doctors Treating Sickle Cell Disease

Milwaukee – July 20, 2018

Treating patients for their illnesses is one thing, but interpreting their test results is another. One BloodCenter of Wisconsin expert was called on to better understand a sickle cell disease patient suffering from severe anemia.


Many patients with sickle cell disease experience extreme bouts of pain and some rely on regular blood transfusions to help them feel healthy and prevent complications. Sickle cells are produced in bone marrow, and the only known cure for sickle cell disease is a bone marrow transplant. But the procedure can be risky, and many patients rely on other treatment options, like blood transfusions, to manage their disease.

As a top NIH grant recipient in Wisconsin, investigators at the Blood Research Institute are working hard to develop new and innovative treatments to improve options for these patients. Recently, Sue Johnson, Director of Clinical Education at BloodCenter of Wisconsin, collaborated with Blood Research Institute investigator and physician Josh Field, M.D., to understand why one particular patient with sickle cell disease experienced unusual transfusion issues. Experts at the Blood Research Institute, like Johnson and Dr. Field, use precision medicine to treat patients based on their individual needs and symptoms, and collaborate with other experts to determine the best treatment approach.

During his interactions with the patient, Dr. Field found that the patient’s body developed antibodies (which normally serve as a defense force against things like bacteria and viruses) against itself and began to destroy its own healthy red cells – a condition that is difficult to diagnose in patients with sickle cell disease. As a result, the patient’s condition worsened, resulting in her bone marrow ceasing to function and, ultimately, death.

In the medical community, it is vital for researchers and medical experts to share their findings through published research. For the article “A Fatal Case of Immune Hyperhemolysis with Bone Marrow Necrosis in a Patient with Sickle Cell Disease” in Hematology Reports, Johnson served as a subject matter expert, reviewing data collected by Dr. Field and informing doctors of possible life-saving approaches for future patients.

Though this patient sadly did not survive, Johnson is focused on the “why,” and the practical application of Dr. Field’s findings. Why did this happen to this particular patient? How can we improve testing and help other patients in similar situations? Now that they are published, Johnson’s and Dr. Field’s findings will now aid other doctors in treating their patients.

“It’s knowledge that [they] wouldn’t have known otherwise,” Johnson said.

About the expert: Sue T. Johnson,MSTM, MT(ASCP)SBB, is the Director of Clinical Education at BloodCenter of Wisconsin and serves as Director of BloodCenter’s Specialist in Blood Banking (SBB) program.

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